Q: How much “too much” is enough?
The Hulk when Abomination finally succumbs. Patrick Bateman splatting his ax into Paul Allen. Marshawn Lynch powering into the end zone after punching his way through another defensive line. That cathartic moment after you’ve let the beast inside run wild, and you look back at what you’ve wrought, and you see that it is good. That’s how we imagine BMW’s engineers feel lately.
Even the regular 8-series can be had with up to 523 horses, 23 more than the E60 M5 that first stopped the general public in its tracks back in 2005. Five hundred horsepower? From a V-10? Wait. Back up. BMW made a V-10? And it revved to what? Back up further. Five hundred twenty-three horsepower is more than double the output of the 1988 E28, the car that first forged the M5 legend. But now, 523 is available in a regular BMW—well, technically it’s an M Performance model, but that’s just marketing malarkey.
It sounds crazy, we know. But if 523 horsepower is crazy, then 600 is believing that porcelain doll propped up in the spare bedroom is Mother, and 617 is the happiness you feel when she hands you a plate of fresh cookies. But you aren’t hallucinating, and those really are your choices with the new M8: 600 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 or 617 in the M8 Competition.
Hankering for a taste of the madness? (Hint: Yes, you are.) Set it to Sport mode, make sure the transmission is in its most aggressive setting, and Hulk-smash the brake first and then the gas. A notice flashes in the IP that launch control is engaged, and when you release the brake, the M8 smashes you back. It blasts through 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds and clears the quarter-mile in 10.7 at 129 mph. Just 15 seconds from stopped, it’s at nearly 150 mph. How’s this for an unexpected comparison? The M8 is quicker to 60 mph than a 710-hp Ferrari 488 Pista. With its tidier frontal area and significant power-to-weight advantage, the traction-on-launch-limited rear-drive Ferrari takes the lead by 100 mph, but that’s crazy performance from anything, especially something 16 feet long and weighing more than two tons. Goes to show how a car can leverage all-wheel drive to benefit acceleration.
You’ll likely need the carbon-ceramic brake rotors because every time you crack the whip, you’re going to be adding 15, 20, even 40 mph. The left pedal will get a lot of use hauling this much mass back down to responsible cornering speeds. On a tight road, there’s no finding your rhythm if you so much as touch the gas. It’s all eye-widening acceleration followed by panic braking. Good thing the Pirelli P Zero PZ4s cling to the skidpad at 1.03 g’s. With those tires and 15.7-inch rotors up front and 15.0s in the rear, the M8 sheds brake heat like Rambo does water. At the test track, its 70-mph panic stop required just 146 feet.
The M8’s electrically assisted steering offers both variable assist and a variable-ratio rack. It’s not the most communicative, but it is awesomely immediate off-center, helping the car feel smaller than it is. To really feel the M8 contract around you, turn all the aids off, switch all the various powertrain and chassis settings to their most extreme modes, and cut the power to the front axle. The car takes its set in a corner, and a little prod of the gas only makes the outside-front tire squeal louder. But a big prod wags the tail nice and easy, and a puppy-dog spirit emerges and begs you to steer with the rear.
The big M8 isn’t quite as comfortable hanging it out as its predecessor, the M6, was, with less seamless transitions between a proper line and “woo-hoo!” The reluctance to indulge might be the fault of the extra weight over the nose, or maybe it’s the reduced tire stagger—the M6 wore 265s up front and 295s out back, while the M8 has 275s under the nose and 285s in the rear. Or maybe it’s the fact that the M8 is designed to be, and optimized for, all-wheel drive. But that playfulness is present, and regardless of why it’s diminished, it is a welcome (and unsurprising) discovery.
The 8-series designation returns for this generation—BMW having shelved it back in 1997—in an effort to reinvent prestige higher than the number 6 provides. But like the last generation of the 6-series, the 8 shares much of its architecture with the 5-series sedan. The M8 is actually 1.2 inches shorter than its M6 predecessor, a skosh wider, and a metric smidge lower.
Mostly, though, it looks smaller because of the svelte new shaping. A sharp bone line runs along the door, vast concave scallops below it drawing visual tonnage from the profile. Similar suck-it-in-and-hold-it styling deflates the shapes along the hood and in the rear. Long, thin headlights with an aggressive squint flank an enlarged grille and gaping intakes in the lower fascia and only enhance the shrinking effect. But the car still carries visual heft. If the phrase “Big M8” doesn’t make you giggle, take a minute to Google it. You’re welcome.
But inside, the M8 is not so huge. The back seat isn’t as laughable as, say, the Aston Martin DB11’s, but being second funniest isn’t a good thing here. Even up front, the M8 wears passengers out. On our 2000-mile campaign against the mayflies of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we did a lot of fidgeting and would have stopped to stretch more than we did, but we prefer those bugs pulverized against the front fascia rather than tangled in our hair and buzzing down our backs. And the transmission tunnel forces an extreme pedal offset, which led to serious knee and ankle aches. Even so, the engine seems like it should maybe be pushed back farther still, considering the M8 carries 55.0 percent of its 4251 pounds over the nose.
As the sportier version of an already obscenely powerful and heavy car, the M8 awkwardly straddles the line between the GT and sports-car worlds. It’s a little stiffer than the M850i but not quite as comfortable, and it isn’t as consistently excellent at balancing its two priorities. BMW’s new variable brake feel is a good example of this. In classic first-gen-innovation form, it’s not all that great in either of its two settings. It’s squishy in Comfort mode and less squishy but still unnatural in Sport. History has taught us that we will gripe about this for a couple years and then BMW will improve it and it’ll be fine. Right now, it’s not quite fine.
Even though the M8 is capable of lunatic shenanigans, we’re not sure it deserves such a wild color. It’s called Java Green Metallic, and there’s about a hectare of it here. That name makes no sense until you see it. It is caffeine for your eyeballs. Although maybe Drinking Ten 5-Hour Energys to Get Fifty Continuous Hours of Energy Green would have been more appropriate. A guy in an orange Mustang laughed at us. So did a kid with the sides and back of his head shaved and the mop on top bleached blond. We can’t say we blame them.
The M8 coupe starts at $134,995. The base price for an M8 Competition is $147,995. The car we tested is about as expensive as you can make an M8—or any BMW other than a fully loaded M760i. The custom paint cost $5500; the ceramic brakes, $8150. Carbon-fiber exterior trim adds $5400 to the bottom line, the 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo accounts for $3400, and the active safety stuff that we switched off immediately every single time we turned on the car, $2800. It might not seem worth $2500 to raise your top-speed limiter from 155 to 189 mph, but trust us when we say the time will probably come when, on an empty freeway, you mat the throttle and are surprised to see a number greater than 155 in the head-up display. To help prepare you for this moment, that option also scores you a day at a BMW high-performance driving school.
Yes, our car’s $175,745 price seems crazy, but what’s crazier is that this is one of the cheapest ways to get into the 10s in the quarter-mile. That the M5 Competition will do it for some $60,000 less and includes an extra set of doors makes this M8 seem almost sane.
Typically when launching a vehicle, you’ll notice some engine wailing, torque-converter stalling, and adrenaline-building drama leading up to the event. The M8 Competition is different. With the driveline preloaded and the reactor out front snarling at a launch-control-determined 2800 rpm, the M8 blasts off without a chirp of the tire, shifting twice before 60 mph. Need 170 mph in 22.0 seconds? Easy. Please spare me the Java Green hue. Acceleration this unassuming deserves something more subtle. —David Beard